Monday, 26 July 2010

A Poll I Once Did

A while ago I decided to find out what my Christian friends believed with regards to evolution. I sent around 50 people an inbox message on Facebook. The ones I chose were people I had either met going to Taizé or knew had been there as this increased the likelihood of them being Christian (a couple weren't, but were sympathetic towards Christianity due to their background). Most were young, between 16 and 30, but a couple were past this age range. They have a variety of educational backgrounds with some still being in school or college, others in university and a few in the working world. Some do have either theological or scientific training, but most do not. The message I sent was as follows:

//Hello everybody,

I am doing a poll for some personal research, asking mostly people who I went to Taizé with. Please don't feel pressure to respond, though it would be much appreciated. It is concerning the acceptance or rejection of the theory of evolution amongst Christians. This is not an attempt to provoke debate, but merely to gather statistics.

My two questions are simply:

1) Do you consider yourself to be a Christian? If not, what is your faith position (or lack of)?

2) What are your views on the theory of evolution?

Simple answers are welcome, though feel free to write as much as you like as it will be appreciated. I won't show this to anyone else without permission, so feel free to say whatever you like, I will not judge. If you find the answer difficult I could lay out some options to choose from if it makes things easier for you personally (having given it no thought can be a good enough answer).

Thank you for your time. //

Out of the roughly 50 recipients of this message, around half responded. The majority were Christian and it is their responses which I will post here. Not all denominations are known, but some mentioned they were either Anglican or Catholic. All quotes shall be anonymous and in blue.

Views Regarding Evolution:

Some expressed a simple acceptance:

Person 1: "I believe everything got here as it is due to evolution, apart from obviously the experimented stuff like Dolly the sheep :) "

Person 5: "I do believe in the theory of evolution."

Whereas others expressed their views in a more sophisticated way:

Person 17: "My views on the Theory of Evolution are basically positive as regards its factual accuracy. I wouldn't call myself a scientist and as far as evolution goes I only know what GCSE science and the BBC's David Attenborough have told me; as a result I would have to say I *believe* in evolution but would not, in all likelihood, be able to provide enough information to present it as a cogent theory - I simply don't know enough stuff. However, from what I can glean evolution seems like a pretty common-sense idea that explains the diversity and success, as well as the wonder, of life on Earth. "

Person 22: " It's a scientific theory (i.e supported by empirical evidence, such as Lenski 2008).
The word theory means different things to scientists and non-scientists. 
It may or may not be true, as with most scientific models.
It has good explanatory power for many biological observations, such as similarity between different species."

Views Regarding the Compatibility of Evolution and Christianity:

Many expressed views which explained the compatibility (or lack of conflict) between evolution and Christianity:

Person 2: " I believe there is sufficient evidence to say that the Theory of Evolution is true but I see Christianity as a way of setting morals and having a certain way of life and therefore the Theory of Evolution does not affect my belief. "

Person 4: "im pro-evolution, as the means God used to make us i guess, don't see christianity and evolution as contradictory"

Person 7: "I think the theory of evolution is probably correct and see no conflict at all with either the Bible or Christian faith in general. Science can obviously contribute something to our understanding, in it's own particular way, as faith and scripture does in a different way, as art does in yet another way. All have their place and truth to share."

Person 13: "I'm a Christian and I'm a creationist and an evolutionist. By that I mean that I believe that God created the universe and everything in it. I think that it is most likely that he created through the process of evolution."

Person 17: "Since I have an inkling that what is really being got at is the vexed issue of religion vs. evolution, I would like to opine that I see no inherent conflict between the two. If God were to wish to create a world then he could just as well have used this system as any other. "

Person 20: "I reckon it's pretty much spot on. It makes a lot of sense, and does work alongside faith. God probably likes complicated things like genetics even more than we do."

Views on Genesis:

Some of the people question mentioned their views of Genesis/the Bible:

Person 3: "[The] book of genesis is a story/moral (can't think of the proper literary word!!) and not to be taken at face value/written as absolute fact."

Person 13: "For me the biblical creation accounts (of which there are 2, Adam and Eve and the 7 day story) are accounts which explain our relationship to God and also that God created. They were not written to describe accurately how the universe was created, they are poetic stories which explain the why rather than the how. I still believe, however, that the Bible is the word of God."

Person 17: "Any literal reading of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, rather misses the point of the book, which is that allegory and metaphor can be educational in a spiritual sense."

Person 21: "I believe that the creation story is a metaphor for evolution, or a story that was told to the people of that time to help them to understand a little easier. I mean, come on, when it said that those guys were like 364 or whatever, it meant their family age, not the single person. lol"

Person 22: "It is entirely possible to interpret different books of the Bible in a different way. It is not illogical to view Genesis as a metaphor (for want of a better word), Revelation as apocalyptic and the gospels as eyewitness/historical accounts."

Some expressed belief in a day-age reading of Genesis:

Person 8: " I believe that the theory of evolution corresponds amazingly well with Genesis 1 if you take the word 'day' to mean a span of time rather than a literal day. The idea that the ordering of the universe developed in the order of Genesis 1 corresponds to my understanding of the theory of evolution, and I believe that the theory proves that the book of Genesis, written 2000 years ago, is truly 'God breathed'."

Person 12: "Yes, God did create the world, but the bible gives a very poetically edited version of real events, as we would not have understood how it all happened until evolution was discovered. "

Person 16: "Yes, evolution is right, but it matches the path in the bible, and things happen in the same order. Creationism is a story of evolution."

Views on Creationists:

Some mentioned creationists and their opinions on them:

Person 12: "Evolution is fact. I am aware that many die hard evangelists just say it is a big lie"

Person 13: "I don't believe that belief in 7 day creationism is an article of the Christian faith and I get frustrated by Christians who imply that you can't be a 'true believer' if you believe in evolution."

Person 17: "Creationism seems a bit clunky, I reckon an all-powerful God would probably have a bit more imagination than that. "

Agnostic Responses:

Some of the people questioned were not Christian but were sympathetic towards Christianity. They expressed their beliefs as agnostic and some of them gave a view based on IF God had created:

Person 6: "If there is a god he fully supports the theory of evoloution. god just started the ball rollin"

Person 9: "I believe in evolution. The bible is just a slightly out-of-date, yet very useful, text book written by our slightly less scientific ancestors. I believe that if God exists than evolution is the process by which he created life... even that great dude in the sky probably wasn't entirely sure what would come of those tiny microscopic life-forms =] "


As I knew these people personally I had a good idea of who would accept evolution and who might possibly reject it (a discussion with one suggested they did not accept evolution, though they did not respond to the poll). It seems apparent that any evolution-deniers amongst the group may not have responded as the poll was not completely anonymous. Just over half did not respond, but this may be more due to being either indifferent or not noticing the message. I may do a proper poll some day, with more participants and more anonymity. 

From the results I did get the responses were unanimously in favour of acceptance of evolution (only one did not explicitly accept it, but instead said it was unimportant). Amongst young Christians in the UK it seems that evolution is not seen as a theory which conflicts with faith, but instead complements it. Genesis not seen as a literal account, but instead an allegory or poetic account, with some accepting the day-age hermeneutic. 

Personally I was pleased with this result. I had often stated that all the young Christians I knew seemed to accept evolution and none were young earth creationists, however, I was not certain. This poll has reassured me that my view is not unfounded. I half expected many to simply say that they do not know and have not given it enough thought, but instead I found that they did accept it. 

Creationism is present in the UK, after all, there is a small creationist "museum" in Portsmouth, but it seems it is still largely an American phenomenon which is seen as naive by many young British Christians. Evolution is not an enemy in the UK for Christians, but a friend.

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